It could be that the Gryphon most relieved to be back on the field when the team begins its OUA season Sunday will be offensive lineman Andrew Pickett.
“Words can’t describe how excited I am to get back out there and play again,” he said following a Gryphon practice this week. “I’m just excited for that.”
Stepping back on the field for the opener against the Ottawa Gee-Gees at Alumni Stadium will validate the hard work the fourth-year Gryphon put in to come back from a knee injury suffered in the spring just days after he was named to participate in the annual U Sports East West Bowl.
“I’m very excited to come back,” he said. “Missing East-West was very tough, but I’m excited to come back this season and show my full potential.”
The offensive player of the year for the Gryphons last season, Pickett still got to travel to Quebec City to see the East-West game and its workouts.
“Missing East-West was definitely very tough. I got to go out there thankfully, though,” he said. “My parents were still going so I got to go out there as a vacation. They let me tag along as well. Coach JF (offensive coordinator Jean-Francois Joncas) let me on the field and let me see what they were coaching and what they were teaching. That helped a lot to see the level of competition I would’ve been competing against and what I needed to showcase that I’m better than.”
Making that trip likely helped Pickett in his comeback.
“It just pushed me that much harder and thankfully Teresa (Budwal), being the awesome trainer that she is, she really pushed me and allowed me to work hard – and (former strength and conditioning coach) Jordan Foley as well – and get my strength back really quick,” Pickett said. “(Offensive line) coach Mike (MacDonald) helped with everything. It was a group process. I can’t take credit for it. It was everyone helping me push and getting me ready to go.”
But, of course, it was Pickett doing the work.
“At times it was definitely tough, but the motivation was that those guys were out there working so I had to put in my work.”
The Gryphons enter the season full of confidence and it’s been evident throughout training camp and the first week of practice.
“It’s been amazing, the energy around here,” Pickett said. “Usually the third or fourth day of training camp, everyone’s sore and everyone’s tired. This time everyone was ready to go. Everyone loves football and everyone’s ready for the dream. We all have that one goal and focus and that’s a championship. We’re going to do everything in our power to punish and get there.”
The Gryphons got a taste for the season when the Summer Showdown with the St. Francis Xavier X-Men and Mount Allison Mounties was served up as an appetizer. The Gryphons won three of their four mini-games, outscoring the X-Men and Mounties by a combined 62-13 score.
“The trip out east was very nice,” Pickett said. “We got to hit some other people, but we’re ready to take it to the season now and really showcase what we can do as a team.”
And the Gryphons are ready to shake off the butterflies and get on with league play.
“There’s a little bit of nerves, definitely, just kind of ‘How am I going to do?’ It shows you care but at the end of the day it’s just excitement for the game-day atmosphere, going against other guys and seeing what happens when the bullets fly.”
Sunday’s game is to start at 1 p.m.